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2192 women in the Swedish music industry behind appeal against sexism

Några av de artister som skrivit på uppropet #narmusikenhartystnat.
Några av de artister som skrivit på uppropet #narmusikenhartystnat. Other: TT och DN

Sexual assault. Rude and outspoken sexism. A culture of silence, which prevents consequences. 

2912 women now testify about the situation in the Swedish music industry, in light of the #metoo-campaign. 

Zara Larsson, Robyn, First Aid Kit, Seinabo Sey and Carola are a few of the women who have signed. 

Not long ago the majority of the people on stage were men. The people who wrote about music in newspapers were men, the people in power at record companies, concert halls and rock venues were men. Men had the interpretative prerogative in all aspects of the music industry. 

Today the situation has changed. The big companies have female directors; award shows are dominated by female prize winners. Even the gender balance among critics in the media is close to 60/40  - a distribution which is the expressed goal in the industry. 

But behind the scenes – what we call backstage – artists, musicians, composers, students, record company employees, trainees and others testify of assault, sexual harassment and a sexist jargon. 

Here are some of our stories. 

I was 14 when I started a pop/rock group together with three other girls. When we were 16, 17 years old we played at what I remember as a pretty big festival. Just as we were going on stage we saw how they had written about us in the programme, we hadn’t seen it before: ”Not only are they beautiful, they can play too. So hold your dicks, boys.”

***

Where should I begin? My boss pushed my face close to his groin when I spoke out about being paid half the amount that the man who I trained to be my boss. The manager of a famous artist tried to rape me when nobody was looking. 

***

I was 17 and was doing an internship at a record company. It started the first week, when the owner, a grown man, commented on my looks in front of everyone in the office, saying I was beautiful and sexy, and saying that he wanted to ask me out on a date. Then it continued time after time, as my friend ”was forced” to run errands. He sent her away in order to be alone with me, and shut me in an office with him, telling me he wanted to sleep with me there and then on the floor, asking me if we should do it. 

He also pressed me up against a  wall and kissed me, continuing to give comments on my looks and so on. In the end he said that we had to come to his home and work from there. After that he tricked my friend into leaving, so we were alone. He pushed me down in a sofa, and made me get on all fours, then he pulled my trousers down and had anal intercourse with me (for how long I don’t know, as I fainted). I woke up when his doorbell rang. 

***

A record company signed a children’s group of 9 to 12-years-olds. In a meeting about the group, I was with four men in senior positions at the office. The men played a video with the children, and suddenly one of them said ”they don’t have hair on their pussies yet, they have ”nicely shaved” pussies…”

***

When a competent male musician rapes you, you lose a lot of friends. ”What he did was wrong. But he is an asset to the music industry so we don’t want to lose him. I hope you can understand and respect that.” One example of what friends have said when I’ve told them what happened.

***

A teacher at the Music academy who after every singing lesson wanted to touch my stomach to see if I had the right breath support. He sat on a chair and felt my stomach and back while I was singing. It was wellknown among the students that he did the same thing during lessons with all the female students, but never with the boys. Once he wanted me to feel his stomach. I did as he told me and put my hand on his stomach. He said ”no! Here” and pulled my hand as far down as he could without it touching his genitals.

***

I was 23 years old, working at a music studio in London. I missed Sweden and wanted to try to get a job in a famous studio. The day I called one of Sweden’s leading artists was recording at the studio. Immediately they started making jokes and they put me on speaker phone. I politely tried to tell them about my work, and that I was looking for a job. Suddenly the artist shouts ”Do you like sucking cock?” The producer laughs in the background. ”If you like sucking cock we have work for you.”

***

A male musician in a band attacked me, on stage during our set. He came up behind me in some kind of last-song-of-the-tour-euphoria, and grabbed my breasts while I was playing. I was so surprised, and I didn’t want to ruin the song, so I didn’t make a fuss about it. But then I had a beer, fainted, and somehow managed to get to the hotel room where I tried to throw up. He knocked on the door and said he wanted to help me. He lifted me from the bathroom floor, shoved me on the bed and had sex with me. 

***

We meet in his studio. Alone, of course. I am singing the chorus and we do that for a few hours, it’s all going well. Afterwards I get a cup of tea (I hadn’t started drinking coffee yet) and we chat for a while. The mood is good. He stands up and massages my shoulders. ”Shit, you’re tense!” It was true. I remember my muscles crackling, and the massage felt good. After a while (I don’t even know how) I find myself lying down and he is looking at me, massaging my back. My trousers are pulled down and he… you know. I remember it hurting, and me crying. He sees it and tells me he will be finished soon. 

***

These stories describe a few occasions over many years. They are an extract of hundreds of testimonies, all of them from what we call the music industry. They describe things that happen every day. We have been forced to develop strategies in order to protect ourselves. Creating separatist contexts where men are not welcome is an example. 

The people who reproduce the culture of silence, and make sure it is kept in place, are the same men who sit in TV-programmes, in t-shirts with feminist aphorisms written on them, or who set quotas for how many female artists should be booked to play at big festivals.

The discrepancy between words and actions is enormous, and the values and policies, which are decided in the industry concerning sexism and equality, are all nice words on blank papers. 

In the music industry we work 24/7, often with insecure contracts and temporary employment. Being accommodating and not making a fuss is important in order to not be replaced. This makes women in the music industries targets of power demonstrations, often with a sexual nature. In our existence laws on consent are far away, we are objectified and sexual assault and harassment are more rule than exception. If we report these incidents the cases are usually dropped before being investigated, as it’s our word against theirs. If we talk back we lose our jobs or are subjected to threats. We clench our fists in our pockets and seldom talk about this topic, not even with each other. The culture of silence prevails. 

But we will no longer be silent. We demand zero tolerance for sexual exploitation or violence. Sexual assault or violence will have consequences in terms of terminations of contracts. 

The people in power in the industry – it’s your responsibility to make sure that no one is sexually vulnerable at the work place, and you have failed. 

We will get support from the stories we have shared and listened to. 

We will continue to listen to each other and support each other. 

We will put shame back where it belongs - with the perpetrators and the people protecting them. 

We all speak with one voice and we will not comment the content of this article further. No means no – respect that! 

We know who you are. 

In an earlier version of the appeal, the number of women were 1993.

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